Saturday, May 26, 2012


I still remember the day I was told I’d be getting a little brother.  I was six years old.  We were at the eyeglass shop in the mall where my dad worked.  My mom knelt down to eye-level and said, “We have a surprise for you.  Do you remember what you’ve wanted for a very long time?”  Much to my retrospect dismay, I responded, “a hot dog?”  (Could I be anything other than an O’Gara – food is ALWAYS on my mind!!  I mean, c’mon!  It’s embarrassing, really.)  The answer was, of course, a little brother. 

My brother’s name is Spencer and he’s been 40 years old since the day he learned to talk.  He’s borderline genius and I love him for it.  Dinner conversations with Spencer continue to blow my mind, whether he’s explaining why mining in Africa is economically unstable or how certain proteins will only attach and then detach to… well, God knows what!  I’m pretty sure when I was 18 I was talking about Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dumb. 

Spencer graduated from high school last Friday and today, we’re celebrating his accomplishment with a party at our house!  There’ll be pizza and cake, swimming, and hopefully a tournament of Spoons during which someone will inevitably crawl across the table in overexcitement. 

I plan to contribute a double batch of Spanakopita triangles – one of Spencer’s favorite appetizers.  They are now a staple at any of our family parties, so they’ll be gone in a heartbeat, I’m sure.  A mixture of savory spinach is delicately wrapped in layers of filo dough to create these tasty packages.  They may take time to put together, but it's well worth the effort.

Congratulations Spencer, on your graduation and all of your accomplishments thus far!  I look up to you so much and I can’t wait to see what you’ll do in college.  Thank you for always being a Niles to my Frasier.  Félicitations, mon cher frère

1 bunch of green onions
2 garlic cloves
Olive oil
1 package of frozen spinach, thawed
6-8 oz. feta
Salt and pepper
1 egg
Filo dough
Melted butter

Squeeze spinach to drain completely. 

In a non-stick skillet, sauté onions.  When onions are soft, add garlic.  When garlic is fragrant, add spinach and mix together.  Remove from heat and let cool. 

Preheat oven to 350.

When spinach is cool, add feta cheese and 1 egg.  Mix until thoroughly combined.  Cut filo sheets in half.  Take one halved sheet and place a spoonful of spinach in the middle of it at the top.  Fold the filo over the spinach and begin to fold so that you have a triangle.  (Almost like you were folding the American flag).  Tuck the last part of the filo dough under the triangle and brush with melted butter.  Place on a greased cookie sheet and repeat with the rest of the spanakopita. 

Bake for about 10 minutes, until the filo triangles are golden brown and crunchy.  Serve with Tatziki sauce, if desired. 

*Thank you to my friend Chad, for introducing me to a new version of these snacks.  Brush a little orange honey butter on top before baking for a sweet touch.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Millefeuille à la Mure (Blackberry Napoleons)

“Millefeuille” is a French word that literally means “a thousand sheets.”  It is most famously used in the French Napoleon, which is made of many layers of puff pastry, cream and fruit preserves.  My version is slightly different.  I’ve used Filo (which to me is ever so much more like a thousand sheets), pudding and whole blackberries. 

This impressive and elegant dessert is good for special occasions and holidays.  I made it a couple years ago on my birthday and it was a huge hit.  The crispy layers of sugary filo contrasted against the creamy pudding create a delicious juxtaposition of texture and flavor. 

1 packet of Filo dough (about 20 sheets)
Sugar, for sprinkling

2 Vanilla Pudding Packets
Zest of 1 orange
1 t vanilla
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Fresh Blackberries

Preheat oven to 350.  Lay out one sheet of Filo dough at a time on a sheet of parchment paper.  Brush each Filo sheet with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.  Lay another piece on top and repeat.  When you have layered 5 sheets, bake in oven at 350.  You will need 4 sets of Filo, 5 sheets each. 

Follow the directions on the pudding packets and once they have been thoroughly combined, add the zest of 1 orange as well as 1 t. of vanilla.  Allow to set and cool in the refrigerator. 

When the pudding is set and the Filo has cooled, layer the ingredients.  Smear a large spoonful of pudding on top of the first set of Filo and cover with blackberries.  Place another set of Filo on top and repeat.  Place the last layer of Filo dough on top of the dessert and dust with powdered sugar.  To serve, carefully cut through the layers of Filo, pudding and blackberries.  Garnish with more blackberries.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Lemon Blueberry Pancakes

My mom is one of my biggest motivations and best role models.  From her hard work ethic to her adventurous & traveling spirit, she’s a stand up woman who I admire with all my heart.  This morning, the recipe is for her.  Happy early mother’s day, mom, and thank you for making me the person I am today.

These pancakes are small and light, but full of bright, fresh flavor.    They have a crunchy edge and bursts of warm blueberries that your mom will love too.  Serve them for breakfast or brunch for an elegant and refined start to your day. 

Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 C. flour
1 C. milk
1 t. baking powder
2-3 T. sugar
3 T. ricotta cheese, whipped (optional)
2 eggs
1 pint Blueberries

Powdered sugar, to garnish
Extra blueberries and whipped cream, to garnish

Heat a large skillet over medium heat with 1 T. butter. 

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and sugar.  In a second bowl, beat the milk, ricotta and eggs until they are thoroughly combined.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine.  Add zest and enough lemon juice to create a wet batter. 

When the pan is hot, spoon small spoonfuls of the batter into the hot, buttered skillet and fry the pancakes.  Immediately add several blueberries to each pancake.  When small bubbles start to form, flip the pancakes and cook for another minute.  Remove from the pan and cover in foil to keep warm (or place in the oven at 200 degrees until your meal is ready).  Repeat with all of the pancake batter. 

To plate, pile a small stack of pancakes and add a healthy spoonful of whipped cream.  Sprinkle with blueberries and dust with powdered sugar.  Breakfast is served. 

*The ricotta works really well with the lemon.  It also adds fluffiness to the pancakes that eliminates their normal heavy nature.  I like to beat the ricotta to lose some of the graininess ricotta sometimes can have.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I bought dirt for my parents’ anniversary this year.   It might seem like a strange gift, but they loved it. 

For quite some time, my parents have discussed improving their backyard.  My mom had wanted railroad ties for ages, and this Christmas she finally received them as a gift.  So, my brother and I pitched in and bought them dirt for the back yard.   We spent a morning last month transporting the mountain of dirt (and I mean mountain – it was 6 tons worth!) from the driveway to the backyard.  There are not any flowers yet.  Hopefully they’ll arrive before next Christmas.  But, through the process, it made me really want to grow something.  My dad’s got the greenest thumb in the tri-state area.  I’ve got the…brownest. 

BUT, several weeks ago, I did buy some seeds for basil, parsley and rosemary.  I planted them diligently in each impression of an egg carton.  And they’re growing!!!   I almost can’t believe it.  But, it’s true!  As soon as they’re old enough, I’ll transfer them to a more durable container and be able to cook with real, homegrown herbs!  Stay tuned for some new fresh recipes. 

**Sean has been ripening his green thumb as well.  His tomato plant, Rosie, is looking rather strapping.  Instead of growing her from scratch, we adopted her.  And we love her just the same.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Apple Cheesecake Purses

A very long time ago at a family wedding, I tried a scrumptious little pastry purse filled with spinach and cheese.  It was so delicate and elegant, even tied with an edible green string of some herbaceous origin.  I was fascinated.  How could such a delectable treat also look so precious?  And thus started my obsession with fancy petite appetizers and finger foods.  Now, you can find them in the frozen section of the grocery store, which sadly, has eliminated most of the magic...

I recently spent some time with my Gram in Tucson and was inspired to recreate the pastry purse.  I made it with apples and cheese instead and it turned out fabulously.  Try this for a tasteful dessert at your next dinner party and your guests will literally  beg  for more.  

 2 T. Butter
3 large Fuji apples, peeled and chopped
1 t. Cinnamon
1/2 t. Nutmeg
Pinch of clove
2 T. Sugar

8 oz. cream cheese
3 T. powdered sugar
Orange zest

Puff Pastry
Egg, for brushing

In a medium skillet, sauté the apples, spices and sugar until apples have softened.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, thoroughly mix the cream cheese, sugar and zest.  Set aside.

Cut 4" circles in the puff pastry using a bowl as a guide.  Trim the edges so that you have flower, petal-like edges.  Dock the pastry with holes so that it does not rise as much as it normally would.  Sprinkle each disk with cinnamon and sugar.  Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the cheesecake mixture onto the puff pastry.  Top with a small amount of the apple mixture.  Fold each edge of pastry up and over the mixture and to the right so that each one slightly overlaps the next.  (Do not stretch the dough or it will just pull right back to its original size).  Set on a parchment paper covered baking sheet. 

In a small bowl, beat an egg with a bit of water.  Brush each puff pastry purse with the egg.  Bake the purse in the oven for about 6 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.  Serve with 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Spicy Thai Eggplant

I think the first time I tried Thai food wasn’t until college.  I had always opted for Chinese food.  Maybe Thai was harder to find or I was just stuck in a rut.  But, now I keep a balanced mind when it comes to Asian food.  The fresh herbs and thin sauces of Thai food satisfy my cravings for eastern flavors without the added heaviness or cornstarch. 

I came across spicy eggplant at one of my favorite Thai restaurants in Flagstaff, AZ and instantly wanted to make it at home.  The restaurant served theirs with hamburger, but I have eliminated it and transformed this dish into a spicy and satiating vegetarian meal. 

Vegetable Oil
Crushed Red Pepper
Eggplant, sliced
Onion, sliced
Red Pepper, sliced

1 T. Soy Sauce
4 T. Brown Sugar
4 T. Rice Wine Vinegar
1 t. Paprika
1/2 t. Cayenne Pepper
Basil, ripped

In a large skillet, heat oil with red pepper flakes and garlic.  Saute the eggplant until lightly browned.  Remove from skillet and add onion and pepper.  Saute until slightly soft, but not browned.  Add eggplant and toss to combine.  Sprinkle paprika and cayenne pepper over veggies and stir until evenly distributed. 

In a separate bowl, combine, soy sauce, sugar and vinegar.  Stir until sugar has dissolved. 

Add sauce to veggies and toss to combine.  At the last minute, add the ripped basil.  Serve with rice or over egg noodles.  

*If you’re a fan of Pad Thai, use this sauce recipe over egg noodles, chicken and shrimp.  It’s got a beautiful kick that works well with almost any stir-fry.